Sarria

On the walk from Triacastela to Sarria peregrinos have the choice between two routes. The most direct will involve a walk of about 18.7 kilometers. The other involves a detour that adds a little over 6 kilometers to the trip. This extra bit of walking is worth it, though, as it offers the opportunity to visit the Samos Monastery.

This monastery was founded in the 6th century by Benedictine monks. In the 11th century a pilgrims hospital was added, which is still in use today. The monastery features a Baroque facade that was added in the 18th century. If you decide you want to have a look inside, you can take advantage of a guided tour. We were able to go on a tour that was given in both English and Spanish. On the tour you will have the opportunity to see the cloisters, which feature some amazing gardens and one scandalous fountain, murals depicting famous visitors to the monastery, and a chapel filled with ornate Baroque elements.

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Perhaps even better than the tour is what can be found in the gift shop. Here you can purchase chocolate made by the monks. There are three different bars to choose from: milk chocolate, dark chocolate (which happens to be vegan), and a large bar for making chocolate a la taza, in case you want to create a breakfast of chocolate y churros at home.

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On the walk from Samos to Sarria, keep your eyes open for storks. The birds are rare in Galicia, but a few pairs usually nest in Sarria and this may be your last chance to see them. Once in Sarria, you will be in the last town where pilgrims can start walking and still cross the minimum distance required to receive a Compostela. Our guidebook recommended passing through Sarria in order to avoid hostels crowded with pilgrims just starting their journey, but I found Sarria to be a pleasant place to stay, especially after having some trouble with the walk earlier that morning. If your feet are feeling crammed in your boots, you can do what I did and stop by Peregrinoteca to pick up a pair of hiking sandals.

We spent the night at the Los Blasones albergue, which is conveniently on the Calle de Maior. Across the street is a restaurant called Casa Manuel, which offers a variety of tasty food, including salads, burgers, and sandwiches. Vegetarians will be happy to find several options that offer a reprieve from the usual eggs and potatoes. I enjoyed a vegan tempeh burger with caramelized onions, followed by a dessert of brownie con helado.

Sarria is home to several interesting sites, including the Romanesque Iglesia de San Salvador and the modern Iglesia de Santa Marina. We visited the Monastery of the Magdalena. This monastery was originally founded in the 12th century by Italian monks who wanted to set up a hospital for pilgrims. In the 13th century it became home to an order of Augustinians, and is now home to the Mercediarians, officially known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was founded in Barcelona in 1218 in order to free Christian captives who were taken during the wars between Christians and Muslims. In addition to the usual vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, these monks also take a vow to give up their lives for anyone in danger of loosing his or her faith.

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We happened to be in Sarria on the feast day of the Sacred Heart. This gave us the opportunity to hear some unexpected fireworks and to watch a religious procession. This feast day is in honor of a particular devotion that focuses on the love of God as embodied by the heart of Jesus. These kinds of processions were used in the middle ages to mark important feast days. Seeing this procession gave us the opportunity to see how Medieval traditions remain an important part of Spanish devotional practice today.

-Jennifer

 

 

 

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Astorga

We shared an early breakfast of dry oats, whole-grain breads, and milk substitutes at the beautiful “vegetarian- yoga” albergue of Hospidal de Órbiga. Our host, a singing bodhisattva named Mincho, bid us farewell as we walked towards the soft hills of the Leonese countryside. Our walk was mercifully short with frequent stops along the way, giving us ample opportunity to get to know each other better and meet other pilgrims. Giovanni, an older gentleman from Livorno, shared his ideas on Spanish coffee with us. We heard the joyful laughter of a Panamanian man named Alfonso echoing from every café we passed. Towards the end of the walk, Frances – the trained EMT of our group – shared her medical expertise with a couple of students from the University of Southern California by tending to their wounded feet. Finally, after passing over a winding steel bridge and climbing up a seemingly never-ending hill, we arrived in Astorga.

The municipal albergue greeted us at the entrance to the old city. After checking in and showering, a couple of us decided to do laundry. We inserted the three euros, added the soap, and pressed the button to begin the wash cycle. But nothing happened. We pressed every button on the machine about a dozen times before realizing that it was not going to happen for us, so we went to the front desk to ask for help. Pilar, our hostess, came down to try and figure out our problem. Still nothing. She must have seen how hungry and tired we were after a long day of walking because Pilar immediately offered to do our laundry for us in her own quarters. With her joyful generosity, Pilar became our hero of the day.
Several of us went out to eat at the main plaza of Astorga. It seemed like the whole town was out for a midday stroll – including one Astorgan wearing a Fordham t-shirt, though he did not attend. Every fifteen minutes, the bell on the baroque town hall rang. On the hour, two mechanized statues of a man and a woman in early-modern garb hit a larger central bell with hammers. Certainly the most interesting municipal building that we had encountered to that point. After our mid-afternoon meal, we went back to the albergue to wash up before the evening presentations. We planned to meet at the cathedral around 6:00. The Baroque altarpiece stood out as a worthwhile draw to the church. Afterwards, we explored Gaudi’s episcopal palace.

For groups with different food preferences Cerveceria Restaurante is a great place. They had several different choices of paella, which is very helpful for vegans in the group.  For us, though, the highlight of the evening was the nearby chocolate shop: Pastelerias Peñin. The chocolate was good, but the shopkeeper Lucy was even sweeter. She ended up taking pictures with us, giving a couple of us extra cookies and cakes, and asking us to pray for her when we reach Santiago. If future Fordham groups spend the night in Astorga, I highly recommend paying a visit to our friend Lucy. After a trip to the supermarket to prepare for the next morning, we decided to call it a night early.

Buen Camino!

Jacqueline Rzasa & Ian Schaefer

When in León…

General Tips:

  • Coming into León from Madrid is best by train: if you can buy your ticket online in advance you can save yourself about 20 euros. Also, make sure to show up about 20 minutes early so that you can grab a four seater on the train with table, especially if you’re traveling with friends or planning to work.
  • Make friends, with the people in your group, but also with other pilgrims.
  • Spanish fluency is priceless, but you would be surprised how far you can go with “Hi, may I have that… Where is this (Gesture to your map)… How much is that… Don’t shoot” In Spanish these phrases are, “Hola, puedo tener eso… Donde esta este… Cuanto cuesta eso… no me dispares” respectively.
  • León is beautiful but it is particularly special in that it is a city that you get to be in for more than one day. Take advantage of that, as there is much to see and do.
  • The first day of walking from León is one of the longest on our camino… Go to bed early the night before, future you will thank you.

General History about Leon:

  • Originally a Roman city that was built to protect adjacent mining interest in Galicia from the local tribes from the north. Also, the name León comes from the Roman legion that protected the city.

Things to See:

  • The Cathedral de Santa Maria de León: Along with those at Burgos and Santiago de Compostela, it is among the most important cathedrals on the Camino de Santiago. The 13th century Gothic cathedral was built upon 2nd century Roman bath house. The main facade has two adjacent towers, three carved portals, and a gigantic rose window. The over 125 stained glass windows cover approximately 1,800 square meters. The cathedral itself is built from limestone to further brighten the exterior and interior of the cathedral. There is a 15th century altarpiece by Nicolas Frances. Silver urn containing some remains of San Froilan who is the patron saint of León.
  • The Cathedral Museum: Middle age paintings, Romanesque baptismal fonts, Relics, tabernacles, 13th and 14th century vellum volumes… Don’t forget to get a stamp for your credential.
  • Women’s Benedictine Monastery: Many of our group went here to receive a blessing from the nuns, but we ended up staying for mass. I spoke to one of the nuns who told us about their 9 euro dinner.

Places to Eat/Drink:

  • Meson La Perla: Great spot for smoked salmon and mixed salad
  • Valor: Small chocolate shop where I bought 1lb of milk chocolate truffles for 4 euros!
  • Barrio de Humedo: neighborhood whose streets are loaded with great tapas spots such as the Calle de azabacheria or the Calle de las carnicerias… Pick a restaurant, you can’t go wrong!
  • Vinoteca: restaurant near the Cathedral de León where I had tapas and wine. Try the steak tartar and the octopus.

-Dan Sullivan